How to boost your happiness tonight

Did you know that one extra hour of sleep each night could make you happier than getting a pay rise?

A University of Michigan study found that making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night. Wow!

Looks like I had a great night’s sleep last night – check out my big cheesy grin, above! : )

Happy snoozing x

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow”

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” ~ Charlotte Brontë

I don’t think I was alone in feeling a tad panicky in the run up to Christmas. As I mentioned in my last post, my other half and I hosted Christmas for the first time. Whilst a lot of fun, the preparations – the decorations, the present-buying, the wrapping, the cooking, not to mention the last-minute cleaning – were overwhelming at times. I had lists and lists of lists and my Ocado order (booked months in advance) was updated on an almost daily basis with an extra pint of milk or an extra tin of biscuits, just in case….Of course there was far too much food (we’re still working our way through the chocolate biscuits) and a great time was had by all, but I’m sure I’ll be fretting again when December rolls around!

Weighed down by my festive stresses, I didn’t get around to writing about the link between worry and sleep disruption, as I’d intended. But, as they say, better late than never….

Whether it’s agonising about cooking your Christmas dinner, pondering what to buy your best mate for Christmas, or bigger worries concerning your career or finances, anxiety has a big impact on the quantity and quality of our sleep:

  • The Sun newspaper reported on 16 December 2010 that sleep problems are more common during the festive season because people worry about buying presents, seeing relatives and Christmas finances. Read the full article by clicking here.
  • A 2010 study by Slumberland showed that nearly three-quarters of British workers are struggling to get a full night’s sleep because of work worries. In a survey of 3,000 adults, 69% said that work problems make it difficult to sleep. And even when we do drop off to sleep, the survey revealed that one in three dreams about work at least twice a week. The survey also showed that 39% wake up at least once during the night fretting about their careers. To read more, click here.
  • On 5 October 2010, the Mirror newspaper reported that adults lose on average 68 minutes’ sleep a night worrying about money, according to a study commission by Boots and the Tony Ferguson Weightloss Programme.  You can read the full article by clicking here.

And it’s not only us mere mortals who are kept awake at night fretting; A-listers are suffering too. In October last year it was reported that Rihanna struggles to sleep because she’s constantly thinking about her work.

Despite my pre-Christmas anxieties, I found ways to wind down and sleep in the run up to Christmas. Here’s some ideas that work for me, give them a go when you’re feeling stressed:

  • If you find yourself dwelling on worries when you go to bed, try writing them down before you hit sack. This exercise helps to prevent problems from keeping my mind active at night when I should be sleeping.
  • If you’re prone to waking in the night with worries on your mind, keep a notepad and pen by your bed – then if you do wake in the night with a problem on your mind, you can write it down and go back to sleep.
  • Try to keep your bedroom tidy and clutter-free. Piles of paperwork and unwashed clothes aren’t conducive to a restful night’s sleep and can add to your anxiety.
  • Remove your clock, alarm clock or mobile phone from sight – clock-watching during the night will only remind you that you’re awake and increase your anxiety.
  • Don’t forget to follow your usual, relaxing, bedtime routine – or if you don’t already have one, create one. What you do in the final moments of your day can really help to prepare you for sleep. For me, this means spending the last few minutes of every day – sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes half an hour – in bed with a light novel or magazine (nothing too engaging or stimulating otherwise I’ll never put it down!) whilst listening to the gentle, soothing sounds of Classic FM.
  • Breathing exercises in bed can help to induce sleep when you’re feeling stressed. The NightWave Sleep Assistant guides you in a session of deep breathing whilst you lay comfortably in bed (read my review of this product – COMING SOON).

Until next time, sleep well! x

Wearing my confused face

Heaven is…..waking up on a Saturday morning and knowing that you don’t have to get out of bed. You can pull the covers right up to your chin, roll over and doze……mmmmm.

You can imagine my pleasure (picture big cheesy grin) this morning, when I read that my weekend lie-ins are in fact good for me. The Telegraph website reliably informed me that “A single lie-in is all that is required to replenish the brain and boost energy, alertness and attention span after a week of restricted sleep, the study showed”. Then, imagine my disappointment (cue sad, puppy-dog eyes and wobbly bottom lip) when I read on the BBC website, just a minute later, that “A lie-in at the weekend does not counter ill-effects of lack of sleep during the week, a study suggests”. What? Two studies, with completely different results? How confusing. No, no…one study, two contrasting interpretations….

Now, lets look at the details in those news reports: The study, “Neurobehavioral Dynamics Following Chronic Sleep Restriction: Dose-Response Effects of One Night for Recovery”, reported in the latest issue of the journal Sleep, was a sleep deprivation experiment on 159 healthy adults, aged 22 – 45 years. All the participants spent 10 hours in bed on the first two nights. 142 participants were then restricted to four hours in bed each night (from 4am to 8am) for five nights in a row. They were then allowed a single night’s “recovery sleep” of varying lengths, up to 10 hours. The other 17 participants made up a control group, who were allowed 10 hours in bed every night.  During the experiment, all participants were asked to complete tests every two hours while they were awake.

As expected, the study found that the participants whose sleep had been restricted performed consistently worse in the tests than the control group. After just one lie-in, test scores improved and the more “recovery sleep” they had the better they did. But, even after 10 hours of “recovery sleep”, the sleep-restricted participants had worse test scores than the control group for reaction times, lapses of attention and levels of fatigue. Dr David Dinges, the study leader, is quoted as saying “The additional hour or two of sleep in the morning after a period of chronic partial sleep loss has genuine benefits for continued recovery of behavioural alertness. The bottom line is that adequate recovery sleep duration is important for coping with the effects of chronic sleep restriction on the brain”.

The conclusion: A weekend lie-in can help you to recover from lost sleep during the busy, working week, but 5 lie-ins in a row is even better!!!! My happy face is back!

Could a lack of sleep be making you fat? UPDATE

Since I wrote about this in May 2010, a new research study has come to light that reinforces my earlier conclusion – that your sleeping habits could be to blame for those extra pounds.

The research study, “Sleep problems and major weight gain: a follow-up study” by P Lyytikäinen, T Lallukka, E Lahelma & O Rahkonen (published online in the International Journal of Obesity on 8 June 2010), shows that middle-aged women who have trouble sleeping are more likely to gain weight than those who sleep well.

The study followed over 7,300 middle-aged (40 to 60 year old) women and men for five to seven years. The researchers found that the women who had reported suffering from “frequent sleep problems” (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep on at least 14 nights in the past month) at the start of the study were more likely to report a “major weight gain” (11 or more pounds) over time than the women who slept without difficulty. Even when other factors, such as physical and mental health and lifestyle, were taken into consideration, the link between sleep problems and major weight gain remained – for the women, anyway.

Strangely, there was no association found between the men with troubled sleep and major weight gain, however. Whilst the reason for this difference is unknown, it’s possible that the fewer male participants (1,300 men compared to more than 5,700 women) could have made the link more difficult to spot.

Lead researcher, Peppi Lyytikäinen, told Reuters Health that while the findings do not prove cause-and-effect, they raise the possibility that improving sleep quality might help stave off excess weight gain.

Using lavender for better quality sleep

It seems that the belief that the scent of lavender enhances sleep is more than just an old wives tale. I’ve been doing my research and just look what I’ve found:

  • A study at the University of Southampton in 2005 found that sleeping in a lavender-scented room improved sleep quality by 20%.
  • A study at Wesleyan University in 2004 found that the scent of lavender essential oil increased slow-wave, or deep sleep, resulting in the participants feeling more energetic and alert the next morning.

For almost two weeks I have been conducting my own mini experiment by sleeping in a lavender-scented room. I began my test using the power of Google – a quick search suggests that it’s best to dilute lavender essential oil, as using it in its pure form can cause skin irritation (it’s probably best to do a spot test before using it in any form though). Then, after emptying my bathroom cabinet of all its lotions and potions, I found a small empty plastic bottle with an atomiser lurking at the back (I knew it would come in handy for something one day!), filled it with water and a few – about 15 – drops of lavender essential oil. Ta da, my very own lavender room spray!

For the last 13 days I have been generously spritzing my bedroom with my homemade air freshener before bedtime. I realised by night two that that, actually, I really don’t like the smell of lavender. My other half, meanwhile, does like the scent and yesterday commented that he had started to associate the smell with going to sleep. Oh dear.

Whilst neither of us noticeably experienced improved sleep quality, our test highlighted that scent can be used as part of a sleep routine as a cue to promote sleep. Next, we will be testing some of the lesser-known essential oils for promoting sleep – such as chamomile or jasmine – until we find a scent that works for us both!

If you like the scent of lavender, here are some alternative ways of using it during your bedtime routine (don’t tell my other half though!):

  • Place lavender-scented sleep stones and/or lavender flower heads in your bedroom for a longer lasting aroma of lavender.
  • Encourage someone lovely to give you a bedtime massage using diluted lavender essential oil.
  • Use a lavender-scented body soak in a warm bath for a relaxing nighttime treat.
  • Inhale the aroma of lavender oil – dab the oil on a cotton wool ball or tissue and breathe in the scent.
  • Use a lavender-scented moisturiser or body lotion.

Could a lack of sleep be making you fat?

I spent the weekend in the lovely English countryside with my other half. It was wonderful….until 5am yesterday morning when we had to drag ourselves out of bed – after around five and half hour’s sleep – and drive back to London for my other half’s 7am start time.

After the initial shock of getting up in the middle of the night (it felt like that, anyway) I felt exhilarated by my early start. The sun was coming up as we drove and by 6:30am I was in London and ready to start my day, having already listened to the morning news on the way in.  I’ll admit it, I felt rather smug.

Things started to go downhill at about 9am. I suddenly felt tired and lacking in energy. Despite my usual daddy-bear-sized bowl of porridge only a few hours earlier, I also felt very hungry. I wanted thick white toast smeared with butter and jam. And Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. And chocolate biscuits.

I managed to get through the day, succumbing to my rumbling stomach only once or twice more than usual. It took sheer determination to stop myself from finishing off the box of Maltesers in the cupboard though.

I mentioned my increased appetite to my other half, after polishing off three large chicken fajitas for tea last night. He, too, had felt especially hungry that day – although he is constantly hungry so I’m not sure how remarkable that is!

I reflected on our conversation later that evening. Was our greediness that day a consequence of our lack of sleep the night before?

First thing this morning – after an early night and a glorious eight hours of sleep – I did a spot of research. And there was my answer in black and white: according to a number of scientific studies, a lack of sleep increases feelings of hunger, which can lead to eating more and gaining weight.

I found three 2004 studies[1], that had all found a link between sleep and the hormones that are involved in regulating appetite – ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry and leptin, which suppresses appetite. These studies found that people who slept for shorter durations had increased ghrelin levels and reduced leptin levels. Wow!

One of these 2004 studies, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, also found that sleep deprivation affects our food choices. In that study, when sleep was restricted, the participants craved calorie-dense foods with high carbohydrate content.

In a recent study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March 2010, the participants (healthy, normal-weight young men) took in 22% more calories, on average, when they’d slept for four hours the night before, compared to when they slept for eight hours. The average calorie increase after a night of restricted sleep was about 560, equivalent to a Dominos cheese and tomato pizza!

This is fascinating! The results match my own experience completely – increased appetite, craving carbs and eating more calories than normal. What an eye-opener.

So, the next time you’re feeling extra peckish, consider whether your sleeping habits could be to blame. And, if you’re trying to lose weight, getting some more quality sleep could be the key to shifting those pounds!


[1] Karine Spiegel, PhD; Esra Tasali, MD; Plamen Penev, MD, PhD; and Eve Van Cauter, PhD (7 December 2004)“Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite”, Annals of Internal Medicine, vol 141: pp 846-850

Does the lack of sleep make you fat? (7 December 2004) Bristol University Press Release

Shahrad Taheri, Ling Lin, Diane Austin, Terry Young, Emmanual Mignot (December 2004) Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index Public Library of Science Medicine

New study links lack of sleep to an early death!

If I didn’t have enough reasons already to improve my sleeping habits, here’s another one to add to the list. New research, reported in the journal Sleep, found that people who regularly slept for less than six hours a night were 12% more likely to die prematurely over a 25 year period than those who slept for the recommended six to eight hours each night.

To read the BBC News’ article about the findings, click here.